Tuesday, July 23

No news....

I am sad to say I have nothing to report. Betty has been enjoying some time off as my attention has been required elsewhere. She is scheduled for a trim Thursday. So, I'm hoping to get her out for some groundwork the next two days to get her brain back on business. We are still on track for the show, and I have some other exciting pony news to reveal soon.

Tuesday, July 16

Now I Can Exhale

Last week I had my second and third rides on Betty, and we are settling into a routine. I catch her and Z, cross tie them to groom and saddle, and then they take turns tied to the fence while I ride the other horse. Betty usually stands very quietly watching while I ride Z. Occasionally she'll get herself into a pickle with the rope over her head, but she just calmly works herself out of it. What a smart girl. I'm so glad she's sensible when tied. Nothing really seems to faze this mare, though; so, I shouldn't be surprised.

Our second ride was much like the first. Betty had a little bit more nervous energy when I brought her to the mounting block, but she settled down quickly and stood very nicely at the block for me to hop on. The most important thing for her to realize this ride was the ability to move forward. We still did many tiny little circles, and she trotted off in a small panic when I smacked her hiney with the end of my rein to inspire some forward energy, but she relaxed into the ride and even went straight for a few strides at a time. I kept it short and sweet, but I was so proud of my girl.

Our third ride was even better! We walked and trotted both directions mostly on the rail. She balances well and is getting the hang of turning from my seat and leg. I'm riding her in the sidepull, and it's a great tool for teaching her to follow her nose through turns. I've never started a horse with one before, but I think it may be my new favorite piece for starting horses.

During training, people put a lot of emphasis on the first ride, but, the way I see it, I have the element of surprise for that one. To me, the better test is the second ride. The horse knows what's coming and has to make the decision whether they're going to behave or buck me off. Of course, if I have done my preparation well, there won't be a problem, but there's always the free will of the horse to take into account. Since we've got three rides behind us, I think I can finally relax. Betty will continue to progress, and I can stop worrying about it and get down to the serious business of training.

While I haven't sent in my registration yet, we are definitely planning on attending the S.A.F.E. show August 3 and 4. Z will show in some western classes, and I may even ride a Western Dressage test with him. I'm not sure what capacity Betty will participate, but, at the very least, I hope to do some in hand classes with her. We have been practicing our showmanship every session, and she is improving by leaps and bounds. I'm really hoping she will be doing well enough to go into a walk only class. We've got a few weeks left before the show, and I will just have to see where we are at when the big day comes.

Saturday, July 6


I finally got a good picture of Betty, but that's not even the most exciting news. When we did groundwork Thursday, I ran through my pre-ride checklist. Flapped the stirrups, jumped by her side while pulling on the horn, putting pressure in the stirrup, and leaning over her back from the mounting block. Her behavior could not have said "Ride me!" any more clearly. She stood calm and relaxed like this had happened to her every day of her life. That's what I love about this girl. Since my trusty sidekick, Aly, is back in town on break from her summer job, I had a little extra motivation to put my first ride on her. I've been putting it off for no reason, and I'm so glad I finally did it.

We kept it short and sweet, but I'm so glad I finally rode my little horse. Aside from the fact that she mostly wanted to walk in tiny circles, I was really impressed with how calm she was with the whole process. SO excited to see what she turns into.

Thursday, July 4

7/2 Betty Update

I actually worked Betty two days in a row. All the beautiful sunshine we've been having leaves me feeling motivated enough to work ALL the ponies! She would have preferred the day off, so I buttered her up with some vitamins. She seems to be back to liking them after several weeks of turning them down.
Her second day wearing the saddle went much like the first. Alas, a good photo of her all dressed up continues to elude me, but, where I lack in quality I make up for in quantity.

Betty has become very snuggly. I'm not complaining, but it does make photographing her a little more difficult. 

I think she looks pretty cute all tacked up. 
More exciting news is coming soon.   

Monday, July 1

On a roll...

July 1 Recap: It's been crazy hot the past few days, but I'm determined to work the big ol' bellies off these horses before the show in August. I waited until it started to cool off for the day so none of us would die of heat exhaustion, but even with my kind intentions the horses took off the second they saw me coming with their halters. I got Z caught after only a minute or two chasing him around. I popped him in the crossties and headed back out for Betty. She stood very patiently in the crossties while I groomed them both. She did have a mild freak out when I hit her with the fly spray, but she settled right down again afterwards.

I tacked up Z and tied Betty to the fence to wait her turn. She stood around patiently the whole time. I'm not sure if this girl is just that good, or maybe a day spent grazing in the sun had her feeling drowsy.   When it was her turn to work, we spent a few minutes trotting and cantering circles. She was very lazy tonight, but, since I had big plans for our session, I decided to go with her laid back vibe and get down to business. I reviewed standing still while I waved the whip around and the saddle pad. I took a little extra time because this was a different pad than we'd used before. Then...

TADAAA!!!! Goal #5 has been accomplished! Betty was great for her first time saddled. I tossed it on and off her back a few times before cinching her up. She stood like an old dude horse and moved off calm as could be. I worked her both directions at all three gaits without a buck, snort, or silly fit.  So proud of this sweet girl.

Betty Update: June Summary

Wow! I can't believe June is gone already. It's been a full month with 4H season in full swing. Sadly, this means Betty has been doing lots of standing around mowing pasture. I'm happy to say, though our sessions are few and far between, we continue to progress. 

Below are a few posts that I had waiting as drafts to be edited and posted. I procrastinated too long and now it seems a little silly to post them on their own. So you get them all together. 

6/2: I only had time for a quick session. I brought her down to the barn, tied her up, and picked her feet.  Then we worked on holding her feet in the farrier positions and tapping/filing gently with a rasp. This will help get her ready for shoes to be nailed on. She was really good, but several times she declined my offer of treats. This has been happening lately, and I'm going to add timothy pellets for variety to suss out whether its the treats themselves or the process she is rejecting. 

Tonight was her first night together in the pasture with Z. I was ready for some running and tomfoolery when I opened the gate between their two pastures, but they just trotted together over to a grass patch and began grazing like they'd been together forever.

6/3: As I feared, Betty avoided me at catching time. I knew this would probably happen when she had a buddy to hide behind, as that was her favorite tactic in the pasture at the rescue. Since I had an extra pair of hands, I asked my trusty sidekick to catch Z. With the ability to use him to avoid me removed, she only walked away about 15 yards before turning around and approaching me for her treat.

In our groundwork, I was looking for more balanced trot in her circles, and she did very well. She tends to be more stiff when travelling to the right, so I occasionally ask her to yield her hips for a step to get her reaching her right hind deeper under her body and closer to her midline. As a way of reinforcing this, I asked for a lot of yielding her hindquarters from a standstill as well. Because she has been doing this one for a while, I asked for a little more refinement and precision. She's getting more consistent at crossing her hind legs while keeping her front end still, but she does have a tendency to want to walk forward rather than pivot. As she gets more flexible, I will continue to raise the precision that I require from her.

I also worked on the Landslide Exercise (back 4 steps, 90 degree turn on the haunch, sidepass 4 steps, 90 degree turn on the forehand, back 4 steps) from both sides. She was having trouble with the sidepass, which is the most recent step she has learned; so, we worked on this one both directions with her standing perpendicular to the fence. This helped her see clearly what her options were, and she greatly improved in only a few passes. We will need to continue to work on calmness as she tends to want to rush through her maneuvers, and she goes to the right much better than to the left. I need to be sure to pause between each step of the exercise to give both of us time to get organized for the next step.

I reviewed targeting the feet for a few minutes, but she doesn't seem to be enjoying that particular exercise. I think it's hard for her to lift her leg forward, which is why I chose this method in the first place. I think I'm going to put that one on hold for a while, and I will re approach the issue when she is better balanced. While it would be convenient for her to know it now, she really doesn't need it until she has to hold her foot on a hoof stand for shoes.

Today was also the day I introduced her to the saddle blanket. As with most things that aren't person related, Betty didn't care about it one bit. In this instance, a picture is worth a thousand words...

She also wore it over her back while walking and trotting some circles. Since the session was going to well, I also introduced the concept of approaching me at the mounting block. She wasn't too sure at the beginning, her hardest training moments involve her having to move near my bubble. She is OK with me being near if she can be still, but when she has to move in close proximity to me, she still gets a little tense and rushy. She caught on quickly to the concept, and I was very proud of our first session on it.

6/10: Continuing with my goal of getting Betty more comfortable moving closer to me, we worked on showmanship. She is already fairly maneuverable in hand from all the groundwork we've been doing, but she is really uncomfortable trotting in hand. To slowly ease her into it, we started with her trotting a circle about 8ft wider than I was jogging. I adjusted my speed and direction to keep her aligned approximately in the position I want her to be in when she is closer to me, but I allowed anywhere from a foot in front of to a foot behind my shoulder. When she got too fast, a quick turn brought her back into an ideal position. She rarely went too slow, but if she did, I would slow down my pace to match. As she became more comfortable, I reeled in more and more slack from the line. We ended up doing walk trot transitions with about three feet of rope between us. We had some good moments and some not so good moments, but she was really trying to figure out what I wanted. At the end of our session, I introduced the first step of setting up for showmanship. I used the clicker to reward her for standing squarely with weight on all four feet. The addition of variety of treats seems to have revived her interest in treats (and the clicker), but she does still occasionally pass on them. I've been wondering how far I would take the clicker into the training process, but it's starting to look like we will leave it behind sooner rather than later. We'll see how the next several sessions progress.

6/22: This was our first session that I left my clicker in the tack room. Her declining interest in receiving treats but not in the work itself led me to believe it was time to let it go.  We worked on more traditional lunging work; she seemed to like the more relaxed pace of working one direction and then the other. I worked her at each gait changing directions before moving faster. She is really improving in her balance and getting a more regular cadence to her work. My boyfriend was along so he was able to take some video.

You can see she is getting much more relaxed about pretty much everything. We also reviewed her showmanship moves. I've added in trot to halt transitions, and, while she still doesn't love it, she is getting much more comfortable moving next to me with only about 18" of slack in her lead. Today was her first introduction to pressure around her stomach, a vital step in preparing her for a riding career. This video was our first attempt...

I couldn't be happier with how she responded! That cool as a cucumber quality is one of the reasons I was drawn to her. I think she is going to be a rock solid horse. After this session, I think I'm ditching the clicker for our regular sessions. I'm sure it will come in handy for occasional things. I find it awesome for motivating a horse and for clarifying ground work where our cues are more difficult for horses to interpret, but, now that Betty has overcome her suspicion of me, I think I can treat her more like a "normal" horse and progress our training in my usual way.


In between these sessions were some ho-hum, run of the mill ones. I wanted to focus on her fitness and moving in balance to best prepare her for being ridden, so we spent a lot of time trotting circles and changing directions. After her one night of rebellion, she has remained catchable. She willingly walks up to me in the pasture 90% of the time. She still has her occasional moments of avoidance but they are becoming less frequent.
Our showmanship is getting much better. So much so, that I've declared Goal #4: Go to a show. I'm planning on taking her to the S.A.F.E. Benefit Horse Show August 3rd and 4th. If she is exceptionally laid back about her new surroundings, I may show her in showmanship and trail in hand. As of now, the plan is just to get her out to see the world. I'll be showing her pasture buddy, Z, in some western classes, so she will have a battle buddy there to reassure her.

In the last month's sessions, I've been laying the very early foundation of her riding career. She is gaining confidence with each session, and I'm starting to feel like riding her is approaching faster than I thought it would. To that end, I will continue refining the movements that have already been introduced, while adding new elements that will continually build towards my first step in the saddle. The first one, Goal #5: Carry a saddle, should be uneventful. She has already worn the blanket and had pressure around her middle, but saddles have flapping stirrups and a stiff feel on her back that may inspire some excited behavior. I'm excited to see how she handles this new element.

Month End Goal Recap:
Goal #5: Carry a saddle.
Goal #4: Go to a show.
Goal #3: Plant the feet. - Accomplished!
Goal #2: Get a hoof trim. -Accomplished!
Goal #1: Create a catching routine. -Accomplished!